I grew up in a blue-collar Miami neighborhood where I lived with my brother, and our Cuban parents and grandparents. For the first time in years, I'm baaaaaaack for Thanksgiving, and boy have I missed the Cuban-American way of giving thanks!
My Cuban Thanksgiving morning began at Plaza Bakery, a Cuban panaderia tucked into a strip mall a few blocks from my parent's house. My sweet Midwestern boyfriend, Mark, and I bought a loaf of flaky Cuban bread, empanadas and various flavors of pastelitos (pastries). We walked out with a box full of deliciousness, a drink and a loaf of bread for $9.
Next, we walked two doors down to Navarro, a sort of miniature Walmart for the Cuban crowd. You can buy a Cuban sandwich press here for $10 along with all your Christmas decorations and a new pair of sandals. While Mark when in search of cheap bottles of soda, I made a beeline for the "fashion jewelry" and perfume counter. Rows and rows of all the designer perfumes you can think of can be bought here for around $50, sometimes less, and if you shop this week, a giant sign declared they were Buy One Get One 50% Off. It was hard not to start my holiday shopping right then and there.
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Just browsing around the place made me feel happy. The sense of community inside that store was palpable, and it made me feel proud of my roots. At the checkout, I was lured by the rows of Latin desserts wrapped in plastic for about a quarter a pop. I showed one to Mark, the crema de leche, a creamy, pure sugar-and-milk confection that my dad used to surprise me with when he came home from work. Man, I loved those when I was a kid!
Back at home, the Thanksgiving prep is under way. My parents are a nervous wreck. Despite hosting dinner tonight for 14 family and friends, they've only committed to making the yuca, a root vegetable that looks a lot like a potato but tastes even more buttery. My dad is the master of yuca making. He boils it, then sautes it in mojo, which is a bottled marinade made of olive oil, garlic and herbs and spices, before topping it off with crispy bacon pieces. My sister-in-law and her parents, also Cuban, are bringing the morros (rice and black beans) as well as the mashed boniato (a Caribbean version of sweet potato) and a few other dishes.
All of this means I am making the turkey. And the cranberry sauce and salad, plus a baked Camembert appetizer topped with sun-dried tomatoes. In other words, I am in charge of the white man's side of the Thanksgiving table.
For as long as I can remember, my family's holidays have always been a celebration of two cultures, a window into what happens when one culture assimilates to another while remaining fiercely loyal to their first. My son, Javier, is 8, and this will probably be the first Cuban-American holiday table he will remember. I hope that years from now when he looks back while prepping Thanksgiving for his family, his table looks a lot like ours, and that the whole experience makes him beam con gusto!!
What are your family's unique Thanksgiving traditions?